Merit? Spiritual Capitalism?

“Merit is a measured value”. Even though merit is not a biblical word, and it’s hard to remove the traces of Roman penitential “spiritual capitalism”, I do agree with folks who talk about Christ’s merits. I wouldn’t say merit, but I would say “obtained by a work”, with that work being the work of the cross.

1. I say this to show that salvation is not only by grace but also by justice. Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift by as his due. The salvation of the elect (with all its blessings) is due to Christ because of His death. It is not grace from the Triune God to give Christ the salvation of His people.

This does not mean we can say without qualification that the elect are entitled to salvation. Salvation is by grace to the elect. But this salvation is by justice, not only to the Son, but also to the nature and character of the triune God. This is important, and it is something which I did not know when I was a lost five point Calvinist for 20 years. We need to avoid a nominalism in which God is only sovereign and not to be measured by justice, as to His character or actions. God is both just and justifier of the ungodly.

So the death of Jesus was not merely one way (among many) God could have saved the elect. Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so. John Owen agreed at first , but then changed his mind. See also Abraham Booth, Justice Essential to the Divine Character. Now you can say that Owen and Booth denied God’s sovereignty to have the option of saving apart from Christ’s death. But God cannot lie. And God cannot save sinners apart from the death of Son.

When Christ died, after Christ died, God cannot in justice not save all those for whom Christ died. This is not about the infinity of Christ’s person (both divine and human). This is not only about paying for imputed sins by Christ’s death. This is also about obtaining something by Christ’s death. This is what  “merits” is getting to. Not only to get off from God’s wrath, but also that Christ has earned righteousness by the accomplishment of His death. And the result of this righteousness imputed will be all future blessings for the elect (access, adoption, resurrection!!!!).

I don’t call this “merit”. I don’t make “the ground” (I just say “the reason” ) the vicarious law-keeping. I think Christ’s death pays for sins and pre-pays for sins and earns all the other blessings. If this is “spiritual capitalism”, so be it!

But it is justice and counting is involved. 1. The death was offered only for the elect and will count only for the elect. 2. But the death did not count for the elect all at one time. The value of the death is the righteousness and this righteousness is imputed by God (not by the sinner, not by the church) to individuals one at a time, both before and after the death. This kind of “impetration” (see John Owen in Death of Death) best fits the evidence which says that the elect are both loved and also born under the wrath of God. It fits the evidence that Abraham was not simply overlooked but really justified years before the death of Christ.

The soundbite that “Abraham was saved 2000 years ago when I was” is more misleading than helpful. Christ obtained by His work of death the righteousness God imputed to Abraham years before He died. Christ by measure by justice by the obedience of His death obtained for each and every ungodly elect sinner who will ever be justified the righteousness that will be legally shared with that sinner and this justifies God in giving a justifying verdict to those sinners.

The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not God’s demand for justice. But the righteousness of Christ obtained by His death would not be necessary unless God demanded this specific death in history as justice.

I like to focus on the nature of the connection between Christ’s death and justification. One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. Not only that God is sovereign in grace but also that God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

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15 Comments on “Merit? Spiritual Capitalism?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    “Entitled to salvation” has a history. One, Bobby insisted that those very words be in any presentation of the gospel. But a. no specific words need to be imposed and b. as Adkins pointed out, there is more to be said than “entitled”. Qualification: Christ is entitled. So yes, the elect are entitled through Christ. But. Not in ourselves.

    Two, Socinians always give the false choice: do you want grace or justice? Or, do you want justification or forgiveness? The Socinian idea is that, if Christ pays for the sins, then it’s no longer forgiveness. If it’s by His death satisfying the law, they say, it’s no longer grace.

    Three, in response, governmentalists (Grotius, Andrew Fuller, Piper and all those who say that they are both Arminian and Calvinist) say that the death is to show the severity of sin, to show God’s holiness, but that there is no strict justice, no strict imputation of sins involved. In other words, these “Calvinists” take the Socinian objection so seriously that they basically agree with it.

    And this was the form of “Calvinism” I was taught back when I was still lost. Sovereignty without righteousness (without law satisfaction). Do you want sovereign grace or do you want justice?

    To which I now say: One, God’s justice is sovereign. Two, I want and need both, both grace for me the condemned and ungodly, but also justice by Christ’s death

    Romans 3:25 God presented Jesus Christ as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, in order that God would be both righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

  2. jsm52 Says:

    I like to focus on the nature of the connection between Christ’s death and justification. One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. Not only that God is sovereignly gracious to us. But that God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

    Good conclusion. He is both just in His judgment of our “crimes”. It is just that we deserve death. It is just that Christ freely took upon Himself our sins. And God is just to justify elect sinners by the work of His most precious Son.

    (I do think, though, that the subject line to the email link you sent might be a bit unfair to the trio you mention)


  3. jsm52 Says:

    Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so.

    Citation from Calvn?

    • markmcculley Says:

      Institutes book 2:12:1.

      Necessary, not absolutely, but by divine decree, that the Mediator should be God, and become man.

      It deeply concerned us, that he who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man. If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly termed simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine
      decree on which the salvation of man depended. What was best for us, our most merciful Father determined.

      • jsm52 Says:

        I think that all Calvin is stating here is that if one is to inquire of the necessity of God’s plan of salvation that one need look no further than the divine decree upon which man’s salvation is dependent. In other words, don’t speculate. God was not bound (it wasn’t of necessity) to simply or absolutely save man. It wan’t necessary in order for God’s justice to be upheld. Yet nonetheless, salvation flowed from the divine decree (his counsels are secret from us), and how it flowed in that our Mediator should be very God and very man, was according to what God deemed best for us.

        But who am I? I don’t even play a theologian on TV, let alone in real life!

      • markmcculley Says:

        Jack, here are two theologians John Owen, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, chapter 13 (book 10, 587) answers Twisse who wrote “it cannot be maintained that God cannot forgive sins by his power, without a satisfaction.”

        “For,” says Twisse, “if God by his might or absolute power cannot pardon sin, then it is absolutely impossible for sin to be pardoned, or not…it is evident that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies when they transgress against him.”

        Owen’s Answer: “The non-punishment of sin implies that God is the Lord of mankind by a natural and indispensable right, but that mankind are not subject to him, neither as to obedience nor as to punishment, which would be the direct case if sin should pass with impunity. To hate sin, that is, to will to punish it, and not to hate sin, to will to let it pass unpunished, are manifestly contradictory.

        “If you say that God hath it in his power not to hate sin, you say that he hath the contrary in his power, — that is, that he can love sin; for if he hate sin of his free will, he may will the contrary. This Scotus maintains, and Twisse agrees with him. But to will good and to love justice are not less natural to God than to be himself. ”

        “But it is manifest,” says Twisse, “that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies; and, therefore, this does
        not imply a contradiction.”

        Owen’s Answer: The supposition is denied, that God may do what man may do. Divine and human forgiveness are plainly of a different kind. The forgiveness of man only respects the hurt; the forgiveness of God respects the guilt. Man pardons sins so far as any particular injury hath been done himself; God pardons sin as the good of the universe is injured.

        Neither is it in the power of every man to let sins pass unpunished, yea, of none absolutely to whom the right of punishing is competent; for although a private person may recede from his right, which for the most part is of charity, yet it is by no means allowed to a public person to renounce his right, which is a right of government, especially if that renunciation should in any way turn out to the hurt of the public. Although a private person may, at certain times, renounce his right and dominion in certain cases, and ought to
        do so, it doth not follow from that that God, whose right and dominion is natural and indispensable, and which he cannot renounce unless he deny himself, can do the same.

        “But neither,” says Twisse, “can it be consistently said that God
        cannot do this because of his justice, if it be supposed that he can
        do it by his power. But Scotus reasons with more judgment and accuracy on this point. ‘The divine will is not so inclined towards any secondary object by any thing in itself,’ says he, ‘that can oppose its being justly inclined towards its opposite.”

        Owen’s Answer: “We maintain that God from his nature cannot do this,
        and, therefore, that he cannot either by his power or his justice. To Scotus we answer: The divine will may incline to things opposite, in respect of those attributes which constitute objects to themselves, but not in respect of those attributes which suppose a condition of God’s character.

        For instance: God may justly speak or not speak with man; but it
        being supposed that he wills to speak, the divine will cannot be
        indifferent whether he speak truth or not.

        God could not but create the world; but God did not create the world from an absolute necessity. It is necessary that God should speak truly, but he doth not speak from an absolute necessity; but it being supposed that he wills to speak, it is impossible that he should not speak truly. We say, therefore, that God necessarily punishes sin.

        “But that necessity,” you will say, “of what kind soever it be, flows from the nature of God, not his will or decree; but all necessity of
        nature seems to be absolute.” “If, then,” says Twisse, “God must punish sin from a natural necessity, he must necessarily punish it to the extent of his power”.

        Owen’s Answer: “That necessity from which God punisheth sin does not require that he should punish it to the extent of his power, but so
        far as is just. We do not conceive God to be a senseless, inanimate agent, as if he acted from principles of nature, after a natural manner, without a concomitant liberty. For God does all things freely, with understanding and by volition, even those things which by supposition he doth necessarily, according to what his most holy nature requires.

        “God appointed a surety, and this surety being appointed, and all the sins of the elect laid upon him, he in their room and stead is the proper object of this vindicatory justice,so far as relates to their sins. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor5:21.

        But Twisse thus replies, “If God punish as far as he can with justice, — that is, as far as sin deserves, — then it must be either as far as sin deserves according to the free constitution of God, or without any regard to the divine constitution. If according to the divine constitution, this is nothing else but to assert that God punishes not so far as he can, but so far as he wills. If without any regard to the divine constitution, then without the divine constitution sin so deserves punishment that God ought to punish sin because of his justice. If disobedience deserve punishment in this manner, obedience will also, deserve a merited reward without the divine constitution.”

        Owen’s answer: “God is brought under an obligation to no one for any kind of obedience; for ‘after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants.’ But God’s right that rational creatures should be subject to him, either by obedience or a vicarious punishment, is indispensable. Obedience is due to God in such a manner, that from the nature of the thing he can be debtor to
        none in conferring rewards; but disobedience would destroy all dependence of the creature upon God, unless a recompense be made by punishment.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    For some religious folks. restricting Communion to the deserving, means excluding politicians (and individuals) who are not earnest enough for capitalism. Money does not grow on trees, and somebody had to earn what others give away. The Lord’s supper is only for the worthy.
    But must we ourselves earn what we receive? Can there be no legal solidarity so that what Christ our husband has deserved and earned is given to His elect? Why do most people in this country, religious or non-religious, Republican or Democrat, reject the socialist idea of the imputation of the sins of Adam to us, or of the imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ?

  5. markmcculley Says:

    When a society falls short of his law, God uses even that disobedience for his glory. “Providence” is the word for the fact that God’s being in charge of history includes his sovereign power over what the fallen world’s evil. This is not a reason to justify or to defend that evil which results from unbelief.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons p 17—The covenant becomes a way, therefore, of circumventing strict justice, making possible the arbitrary acceptance as meritorious of that which is not actually meritorious….. Casting about for some way of bridging the awesome metaphysical gap between God and the creature, the voluntarist seizes on the notion of a condescension expressed by way of covenant… The voluntarist definition of merit must be qualified as a lesser merit that cannot even exist apart from God’s gracious acceptation.

    Lee Irons—But Kline searches for an entirely new definition of merit: “God’s justice must be defined and judged in terms of what he stipulates in his covenants”….Kline’s understanding of covenant is different. It is not a voluntary condescension of divine grace but a revelation of divine justice. …God’s freedom must be maintained, but not at the expense of the divine perfections (i.e., wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, truth, and rationality). God does not act arbitrarily, for all his actions are expressive of and delimited by his attributes.

    Lee Irons—The ontological elements in the medieval view of the sacraments were removed, so that they became signs and seals of the covenant rather than rites which ex opere operato infused the divine nature into the soul. These developments flow from the nominalistic development of the notion of pactum. And, therefore, to a certain extent we in the Reformed camp today are all
    the theological heirs of the via moderna. But have we carried the covenantal revolution to its logical conclusion? or does our system still perpetuate remnants of an ontologically-based notion of merit and justice? ….

    Lee Irons—-Note the fundamentally voluntarist reasoning of the Westminster Confession’s opening statement on the covenants: The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant (WCF VII.1). All the basic elements in this statement are derived directly from the Franciscan notion of covenantal or congruous merit.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce Baughus-Calvin, however, develops a different line–one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,
    When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).
    Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out “of his mere good pleasure.”

    –Calvin goes so far as to argue that “Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God,” meaning that “the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)” (2.17.1).
    Curiously, Calvin’s argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas’s appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ’s work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ’s work–its infinite merit–is grounded in God’s counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.
    That, to be clear, is not Calvin’s argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ’s merit, Calvin argues that Christ’s work has infinite merit on the basis of God’s decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus’s argument from the divine will to accept Christ’s work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin’s view precludes such development

  8. John Owen—“No blessing can be given us for Christ’s sake, unless, in order of nature, Christ be first reckoned unto us… God’s reckoning Christ, in our present sense, is the imputing of Christ unto ungodly, unbelieving sinners for whom he died, so far as to account him theirs, and to bestow faith and grace upon them for his sake. This, then, I say, at the accomplishment of the appointed time, the Lord reckons, and accounts, and makes out his Son Christ, to such and such sinners, and for his sake gives them faith 10:626

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 3: 27 By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

    Romans 4 :11 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, righteousness is credited

    Romans 11: 5 In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. 6 Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace

    faith is not works
    Christ did not have faith for His justification
    Christ died to get His justification
    Christ’s death is Christ’s work

    Luke 9: 30 Suddenly, two men were talking with Him—Moses and Elijah. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of His death, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

  10. Mark Mcculley Says:

    if you are dead, then you cannot get paid. Self-righteous “spiritual capitalists expect to The bourgeois capitalist rejects the idea of unselfish love. These Arminian capitalists think the only love is “reciprocal”. So they worship a false God who says ” I will love you only if you do x favor for me” These Arminians have a “this for that” theology. They reject all “this for nothing” theologies. These Arminians think they owe Jesus for dying for them. These Arminians think that Jesus will owe them if they accept that Jesus died for them.

    The people who warn you about allowing your theology of effect your politics are allowing their politics to effect their theology (and calling themselves 2 kingdom)

    The bourgeois capitalist says, ” I get as much out of giving as they do”  because the capitalist WANTS TO GET PAID.

    Unlike a church which in self-interest gives you assurance for becoming a member,
    the gospel does not become true or false depending on you if you believe it.
    But the gospel does not tell you are that you are justified before God.
    Any person who does not know or believe the gospel yet is not yet justified before God.

  11. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Arminians believe in “forensic” book-keeping, but 1. they don’t believe in getting something for nothing (pure grace) so 2 they believe they will get something either by giving their imperfect faith (or, if they don’t think that’s quite enough) by giving also  enough imperfect works to get them assurance

    After all, they think, neither they nor God is dead. So I have agency to still do something and God still has agency to see me “doing something”

    Sure, maybe they forgive me some, but I forgive them more.
    Sure, maybe I am not perfect, but I am a job creator and good for the economy.
    Sure, the one percent gets more from the economy but there would be no salvation trickle down at all without what I do.

    Jerry Falwell—A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.  In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country and your economy and your family.”

    “This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the
    treasury. For they have all contributed from their wealth, but she
    from her poverty….” Mark 12:43-44

    But why didn’t the widow stay quiet about being poor?  And the neighbor got way more help from the rich people.

  12. Mark Mcculley Says:

    get paid now or get paid later?

    Matthew 6: 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, in order to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward now. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 in order that your giving be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you

    But a capitalist always know that you put most of your stuff in the
    left hand to keep it for capital. This is why you have two kingdoms,
    one in which you imitate Jesus and don’t kill people (while you are in
    church) and then you have this other kingdom and this “on the other
    hand”, where you get paid and you pay back with violence anybody who
    tries to take that stuff you put in your left hand. The left hand is
    for anything like practical like your country or your family or the
    pension plan for paying the clergy.

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